June 22, 2018
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  • The Howard baseball team came charging out of the dugout in celebration of its 5-4 walk-off win over Severna Park in the 4A state championship game on May 25.
    Photo by Colin Murphy
    The Howard baseball team came charging out of the dugout in celebration of its 5-4 walk-off win over Severna Park in the 4A state championship game on May 25.

State Final Heartbreak, But Pride In Success, For Severna Park Baseball

Colin Murphy
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June 13, 2018

Maryland’s high school baseball state finals have a way of turning a sure-fire celebration into a garish nightmare.

Just ask the 2012 Arundel Wildcats. They led 5-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning against Northwest, only for a two-out dropped third strike to be the pulled lynchpin separating a state title from a 7-6 loss in 12 innings.

Talk to the 2016 Chesapeake Cougars. They owned all the night’s momentum and energy when they led Huntingtown 2-0 in the seventh inning of the 3A state final, only to see the Hurricanes score four runs in the inning and win, 4-3.

So the 2018 Severna Park Falcons aren’t the first. And they won’t be the last.

Severna Park suffered its own uniquely cruel twist of fate on May 25 when Howard seized the crown away in the final moments of the 4A state final at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, as Ryan Kulick belted a two-run single to cap a four-run bottom of the seventh and lift the Lions to a 5-4 walk-off victory and Howard’s first-ever state title.

“I thought we did enough to win,” said Severna Park head coach Eric Milton. “It hurts for all of us. We had it, and it didn’t work out.”

For the second year in a row in a state tournament game against Howard, Cam Clark was in position to close out a victory when the pitch-count maximum of 105 forced his exit. Clark threw 6.2 innings against the Lions in this year’s final, allowing an unearned run in the first inning but otherwise scattering five hits.

In the seventh, he gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases, but he also got two strikeouts, the second of which was his 11th of the game and came on his 105th pitch. On came sophomore Evan Lewis, who Howard worked for a full-count walk to score one run and capitalized on a passed ball to score another to make it 4-3, setting up Kulick’s game-winning hit.

Clark and the Falcons suffered from the same constraint in last year’s state semifinal, when the pitch count again forced Clark’s exit in the seventh, and Howard came back to win, 4-3.

“Same thing as last year,” said Clark. “One pitch. My pitch limit. Six and two-thirds and my pitch limit. I thought I got squeezed on some calls. We had a couple plays that would have made me have less pitches, but it is what it is. We lost.”

The walk-off set off a wild celebration on one side and a crestfallen scene of crushed dreams on the other.

The evening wasn’t without heroics on the Severna Park side. Down 1-0 for most of the game, the Falcons rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth. George Lesher reached on a hit-by-pitch, and Drew Jeffries reached on an error. Up stepped Luke Guy, who roped a double down the left field line. Cullen Figlioli, running for Lesher, scored easily to tie the game, and Jeffries crashed face first into the Howard catcher’s glove, dislodging the ball and sliding safely across home for a 2-1 lead and a rowdy celebration of Severna Park fans on the first-base side of the stadium.

In the top of the seventh, Nick Horgan singled and Clark walked, and Kody Milton singled to drive in Horgan for a 3-1 lead. Brendan Simonds singled to drive in Garrett Weiss, who was running for Clark, and the Falcons led 4-1 after the top of the seventh.

The events of the bottom of the seventh inning made May 25 forever a famous night in Howard County.

“All year, our whole career, was a fight to the end. Today, it just slipped away from us,” said Guy, a senior. “But, I’m really proud of our guys. I wouldn’t want to play with any other guys. We work really hard in the offseason, and we love playing together, so that has a lot to do with our success.”

The Falcons’ final result of the year overshadows a season and playoff run that exceeded the expectations of Severna Park’s baseball leadership back in February and early March. Severna Park finished the year 21-4 when no one from the outside expected them to be dominant. The playoff run was almost over before it began on May 12, but the Falcons created an all-time memory by rallying to defeat Old Mill 13-12 on a walk-off homer by Jeffries (after Guy and Horgan hit solo homers in the seventh to send the game to extras) before scurrying off the field to get to prom on time.

Severna Park defeated Arundel three times this spring, once on the first day of the season, again in the county championship and again in a gritty playoff win. They got a tremendous start from Lewis in a season-on-the-line spot to beat Leonardtown and win the region, and Lesher delivered a state-semifinal pitching gem to get the team past C.H. Flowers and into the final.

“I think overall we had some kids step up who really needed to,” said Lesher. “The underclassmen did a great job of filling roles we needed them to, and everyone kind of took it to the next level, and that’s what we needed this year. It really means a lot. It goes to the coaches. They prepare us and push us. Success is expected of us, and you have to perform, and Cam and Kody and myself and the seniors, we’ve been leaders for these kids. We made it to the state championship, and that is pretty big for us.”

Not many programs legitimately contend on an annual basis, but that’s where Severna Park has been since this year’s seniors were freshmen. The Falcons are 80-16 since the beginning of the 2015 season with three region championships and two appearances in the final.

Zoomed out, there is a symmetry to it all. How many people in Severna Park spent any amount of time worried for the emotional wellbeing of the Winston Churchill boys lacrosse team? The Bulldogs are 36-3 over the past two seasons — two of those three losses are last-second defeats to Severna Park in the 2017 and 2018 state finals. Churchill has never won a state championship.

Who cries for Old Mill baseball? Were the Falcons spending moments of the evening of May 12 dancing with their prom dates, whispering tender concerns for the dashed playoff hopes of the Millersville boys?

Of course not. It goes around. There’s a zero-sum totality of triumph and failure that sports can offer. Sooner or later, it’s your turn to handle the loss.

Which means the opposite is true, too. Everything that can happen, will. Some day, probably in the near future, Severna Park baseball will hoist a state plaque into the night sky on the Ripken infield. When they do, there will be a proportionate amount of doom and gloom in the opposing dugout.

In the meantime, the Falcons were able to maintain the perspective of why anyone plays baseball to begin with.

“These kids are my best friends,” said Clark. “I love coming to practice every day. I went to the field at 12 every day just so I could be there longer. … We came up short, but Evan got us here, George got us here. It’s just how it ended. We had a great year, these guys are my best friends, and I love them all.”

 

Severna Park baseball overall records by year, last four years:

2018: 21-4

2017: 22-3

2016: 18-4

2015: 19-5


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